Are You a People Pleaser?

Do you want people to see you as ‘good’, always put others’ needs first and go out of your way to make life easier for everyone? If so, it may come at a cost.

Being warm, kind and agreeable are positive traits and an important part of being in nurturing relationships. But they can become problematic if they do not develop healthy boundaries.

“A lot of the time I didn’t like myself.” Says Natalie Lue, a relationship expert based in the UK, who describes herself as a recovering ‘people-pleaser’. I really had this fear of saying no.”

Lue, author of the book The Joy of Saying No, says ‘people-pleasing is when we suppress and repress our own needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions to put others ahead of ourselves so that we can gain attention, affection, validation, approval and love.

“Or we do it to avoid conflict, criticism, additional stress, disappointments, loss, rejection and… abandonment.”

Trying hard to make others happy comes at a cost, says clinical psychologist Jennifer Guttman, writing in Psychology Today. She says people-pleasing behaviour can lead to resentment and frustration, problems with decision making, and low self-worth.

Putting in boundaries

If you recognise yourself as a people pleaser, Guttman recommends some simple exercises.

- Practise saying ‘no’. This is a hard one for many of us, but it does not have to come across as uncaring. Assertive communication can be done in a firm but respectful way, says Guttman. Try statements like: “I would really love to be able to help you, but unfortunately I am already committed at that time.”

Lue suggests you do not start by saying ‘no’ to everything. She also discourages trying your first ‘no’ on someone you are most afraid of telling ‘no’, such as a parent or partner.

- Do not offer. Try to stop offering, doing things, or advising, unless you are specifically asked, advises Guttman. While this may be difficult if you are used to anticipating other people’s wants or needs, use restraint and wait to be asked.

If you are unsure, Guttman suggests doing something called a ‘resentment check-in’. When someone asks you to do something, do a body scan and ask yourself: “Were this behaviour never to be reciprocated or validated in any way, do I feel a twinge anywhere in my body?” if you feel a twinge, delegate, edit, or deny the request. If you do not then go ahead and accept.

- Make a decision by yourself. If you are used to making decisions in agreement with others, Guttman suggests you practise making small independent decisions, building up to bigger ones. Remind yourself that you do not always have to please everyone with your decisions. Start small, for example, by picking a restaurant, then work your way up to larger decisions as you feel more competent and confident in yourself.


Finding help

If you struggle to set boundaries and speak up for yourself, seek support from a trusted professional such as your doctor, a psychologist or counsellor.